CEDAR RAPIDS — ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” may be hot on television now, but members of The Congenial Hundred Dance Club in Cedar Rapids have known that dancing was cool for the past 80 years.
Founded in 1932, the Congenial Hundred celebrates eight decades of dancing with a Moonlight & Music Holiday Ball Saturday night at the Ponderosa Ballroom in Walford. The Larry Busch Orchestra will provide music for this special dance, which is co-hosted by the Cedar Valley Dance Club, a chapter of USA Dance. That means, unlike most Congenial Hundred events, the public is welcome.
“We are always looking for new members,” says Bill Klein, president of the Congenial Hundred, which actually numbers about 40 couples — only couples are allowed to join. That’s why cooperative dances with people outside the club like this can be beneficial, although that wasn’t the club’s original purpose.
“In 1932 they wanted to keep the group small to promote a social atmosphere, so the couples would know each other pretty well,” Klein says. “The number varies with the health of the members and the economy.”
So the name refers to the membership number cap, not the age of the group, although it is possible that in another 20 years, it could mean both. Members are fairly confident that their claim of being the oldest dance club in the country is accurate.
A member who recently researched dance clubs across the country found that the next oldest one was formed in Wisconsin in 1933 and another in Indiana in 1948.
Look back to the ’30s and the sour economy was causing the Great Depression, yet in Cedar Rapids, a group of folks smiled through it to form the dance and bridge club that, by its very bylaws, “must have as its fundamental ideal the congeniality of all members.”
The first dance, Dec. 16, 1932, attracted 35 couples to the Roosevelt Room of the Hotel Roosevelt. The first anniversary drew 51 couples. At one point, 75 couples belonged.
Even though the number was later limited to 100 people, more or less, the loyalty of members is amazing, Klein says. While he and his wife, Linda, of Robins have belonged for 10 years, others have been with the club more than 40. At 56, Klein falls in the middle. Some members are in their 20s and one couple with both spouses at age 87.
“We don’t discriminate,” says Klein, who adds that members come from all walks of life. “All we care about is that people are a couple and that they love to dance.”
Early dues at $7 per couple were soon increased to $9. They’re now $70 per couple and go up to $85 next year with the money used exclusively for dance hall rent and live music. At one time, the club had an Internet website but couldn’t afford it. Most communication among members is by email.
From the Roosevelt and later the Crystal Ballroom at Hotel Montrose, the “home” venue for the Congenial Hundred has changed often. It has even been in North Liberty as the club encompasses the I-380 corridor. “Home” is now Gage Memorial Union at Coe College where the Corn Ball was held last month.
While dress for the eight regular annual functions is business casual — men wear shirts and ties and maybe a suit or sport coat, women wear dresses or nice pantsuits — Saturday’s dance is formal.
“I have to wear a tux,” Klein says with a laugh. “I own my own, one I bought for myself when I got interested in ballroom dancing 10 years ago.”
That tradition, along with others, keeps the group tight and congenial, Klein says.
Bylaws, for instance, don’t allow smoking or alcohol at any regular events. Guest couples must attend two dances before becoming eligible to join. No one is allowed to give the membership list to anyone outside the club. At each event, members are seated randomly at different tables to promote interaction. Yet you dance with only your spouse rather than switching partners.
“Over the years we’ve had people say they feel uncomfortable with switching,” Klein says. “It goes back and forth.
“Me?” he adds. “All I know is, I want to dance with my wife.”